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Keeping an Open Mind – A Scientist’s Quest for Positive Change

Posted by , on 12 July 2011

I am the founder and CEO of DataGiving. I founded DataGiving whilst completing my Ph.D. in Genetics at the University of Cambridge. I have always been passionate about helping people. After completing my Bachelors degree in Psychology, I worked as an Assistant Psychologist at St Marys Hospital in London, helping adults with severe mental health disorders. Since I was a teenager I had aspired to become a Clinical Psychologist, but as much as I admired the great work Psychologists do, I didn’t feel that my desire to reach out and make a positive change would be fully achieved in this role. I returned to academia, as I had long been intrigued to learn more about the biological basis of human behaviour and cognition. I completed a Masters degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, at Imperial College London, which included a laboratory based research project at the Hammersmith Hospital, investigating the genetic basis of Parkinson’s Disease This research sparked my passion for genetics, and specifically the field of Epigenetics. I went on to be awarded an MRC scholarship, to undertake research into the imprinting regulation of Gsα in the laboratory of Dr Gavin Kelsey at The Babraham Institute, Cambridge.

Whilst at Cambridge, I was determined to fully participate in both academic and social life Cambridge University had to offer, and I served on my College graduate committee, was editor for the Graduate Union Bulletin, and was responsible for raising sponsorship for the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs Society (CUE). At Cue, I learnt about what was required to develop successful businesses, and met fellow students interested in entrepreneurship. I also worked for a while for a biotech, identifying collaborative opportunities with research labs around the world.

I have long been an advocate of harnessing creative and innovative technologies, to facilitate change for the common good. After a period of teaching myself basic computer programming, myself and a team of fellow Cambridge graduates won the TedxCam 2010 Open Data Challenge Hackathon, with a web data mashup named Ventropy (www.ventropy.org). Described by the BBC as “jaw-dropping”, Ventropy impactfully communicates the needs of grassroots businesses in mainly developing countries looking to raise funding through the microfinance site Kiva. Ventropy received high-praise from leaders from both the technology/web and charity fields, and is featured in the Kiva app portal. I was invited to speak about the inspiring idea at The Guardian Activate 2010 Summit, Technology, society and the future: Changing the world through the internet.

I went on to be awarded an UnLtd HEFCE Social Entrepreneurship Catalyst Award to develop the idea of Ventropy into a data visualisation app that translates the charitable impact of any amount of money, this can be seen at www.datagiving.com.

I am passionate about inspiring social entrepreneurs, and earlier in the year I was invited to speak to students at Cambridge University interested in ethical careers at the Beyond Profit flagship event, ‘From dream to reality – funding and support for social enterprise’, alongside UnLtd CEO Cliff Prior. I was also invited back to The Guardian Activate Summit in 2011 to take part in a stimulating panel debate discussing the power of data to save the world.

My scientific training has equipped me with an analytical mindset and curiosity that I’m able to apply in wider contexts of innovation. I am still very much passionate about biological science and in encouraging innovation in this field. I recently came runner up in an Open Innovation competition organised by MedImmune and Cambridge University Technology Enterprise Club, and I have since been asked by MedImmune to develop an Open Innovation strategy for MedImmune and the University of Cambridge.

My career to date has taken unexpected and unconventional twists and turns, but I’ve enjoyed every moment. Keeping an open mind and carving out your niche can be hard work, but incredibly rewarding.




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